Transparency News, 6/24/20

 

 
Wednesday
June 24, 2020
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state & local news stories
 
"The data she received from the school system wasn’t what she asked for, and it arrived after the state-mandated deadline for responding to the request had passed."

A Richmond General District Court judge on Tuesday ordered Richmond Public Schools to turn over data within two weeks to a VCU professor who first requested it under the state’s open records law last July. Kristin Reed, who teaches at VCU’s Department of Focused Inquiry and also is a community organizer with Richmond for All, a coalition that advocates for equal housing and education, filed two Freedom of Information Act requests with the school system for data about teacher and principal turnover. The data she received from the school system wasn’t what she asked for, and it arrived after the state-mandated deadline for responding to the request had passed, she said. School officials say that’s what they had to offer at the time. She filed legal action in March, but a hearing date was postponed due to the pandemic. In the meantime, Reed went to the state education department, which provided her with the numbers and retention data she had been asking for. Reed and the school district will be back in court on July 17th at 9 a.m. There, RPS will confirm whether or not they’ve met the judge’s orders.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Emails obtained by the Danville Register & Bee show city leaders scrambling to put together the May 18 event announcing negotiations with Caesars Entertainment following a two-page Sunday ad in the newspaper pushing for support of a casino at the White Mill site. The very day the ad — placed by Peninsula Pacific Entertainment and The Alexander Company — ran on May 17, city officials began moving quickly to arrange the announcement of their preference for a casino by Caesars Entertainment at the Schoolfield site on West Main Street. They also had to let the public know of the announcement, held the following Monday, ahead of time. The announcement would have come at a later date, sometime before June 1, if the ad had not appeared, City Manager Ken Larking said.  According to emails received by the Register & Bee following a Freedom of Information Act request, a representative with The Alexander Company notified the city's interim director of economic development Corrie Bobe of the ad ahead of time. 
Register & Bee

Christiansburg Town Councilwoman Johana Hicks struggled to hold back tears Tuesday evening, responding to a legal opinion on several ethics complaints against her that her colleagues discussed. The legal opinion included research on a claim she didn’t obtain a proper building permit as well as issues with other forms and social media comments. Hicks, who has maintained a strong stance against closed sessions, was asked by town officials to sign the agreement ahead of a Nov. 14 meeting that town council planned to hold in private. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss contract town attorney services. Hicks’ term had not officially started at the time. Hicks then went on to claim that Councilwoman and Vice Mayor Merissa Sachs had created a fake social media account to harass Hicks and her friends online. Hicks has characterized the complaints and the other council members’ responses as nothing more than bullying done as part of a greater effort to shut her down. Town council had initially planned to go into a closed session on June 9 to discuss the code of ethics issue, but ultimately decided to open the discussion to the public after Hicks raised concerns about the bullying she said has been done against her.
The Roanoke Times

A budget was approved without a new council member during the June 23 meeting of the Richlands Town Council. A few hours before the council meeting started Circuit Judge Jack. S. Hurley, Jr. rescinded his order appointing Jeff Hurst to fill the vacant seat on town council.  Town Attorney Wayne McClanahan read a letter from the judge stating he was rescinding the order due to an accusation he was unduly influenced by a council member.
Richlands News-Press

Black residents are involved in 46 percent of all use-of-force incidents by Fairfax County Police Department, even though they make up less than 10 percent of the county’s total population, according to report released today (Tuesday). The Fairfax County Police Department’s latest report sheds new light on the disproportionate impact of use of force on the local Black community. Data are based on closed cases between 2019 and June 1 of this year. The county’s Board of Supervisors directed Police Auditor Richard Schott to find an academic team to review the data. That study is expected to be released by Jan. 2021.
RestonNow.com

Activists across the country are calling for greater transparency in police departments following the death of George Floyd.  In James City County, the police department has had two complaints of racial profiling and one complaint of excessive force in the past five years, said Deputy Chief Steve Rubino. However, it is unclear if the public are privy to information, specifically the officers involved, surrounding those complaints. Stephanie Williams, spokeswoman for the department, said information regarding complaints and personnel violations involving specific officers are considered personnel matters and are not public. The department uses guidance from the county’s Human Resources Department in regards to personnel matters. When asked if the public should have access to complaints against deputies or if York Poquoson Sheriff's Office would consider creating a public database to access information about complaints, Maj. Ronald Montgomery said it would have to be explicit.
WYDaily

The Henrico Division of Police has been assisting the city of Richmond Police Department during recent daily protests and rallies in the city through a mutual aid agreement that the two localities share, but Henrico Police officials don’t have any record of how many hours their officers have spent on duty in the city or how much that service is costing Henrico County, a Henrico Police spokesperson told the Citizen. That’s because the division does not typically compile such data, Henrico Police Lt. A. M. Robertson told the Citizen. The Citizen requested both sets of data, but the Virginia Freedom of Information Act does not require government agencies to compile data that does not already exist. “The Division is not in possession of any documents that meet your specifications,” Robertson wrote in an email. “We can be back in touch if that data is complied.”
Henrico Citizen

Following two months of virtual meetings, the June 24 meeting of the Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors will be held in person in the Public Meeting Room at 10001 Iron Bridge Road. Measures will be put in place to accommodate public input while practicing social distancing. Citizens wishing to participate in person will be required to wear a face covering and pass a simple health screening before entering the building. In order to maintain the 6-foot social distance requirement, seating will be limited. TV monitors will be set up outside the Public Meeting Room.
Chesterfield Observer
 
stories of national interest
 
"The Illinois Freedom of Information Act’s policy of disclosure was surmounted by the policy of protecting mental health communications under the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Confidentiality Act."
 
The ZIP codes linked to people receiving mental-health treatment through the Cook County (Illinois) Jail are exempt from public records laws, an appeals court ruled last week. The 1st District Appellate Court found the Cook County Health and Hospitals System properly withheld the postal codes that could indicate where the patients live. Justice Jesse G. Reyes authored a 23-page decision last week, ruling the Illinois Freedom of Information Act’s policy of disclosure was surmounted by the policy of protecting mental health communications under the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Confidentiality Act.
Chicago Daily Law Bulletin

The Senate Intelligence Committee has voted to require U.S. intelligence agencies and the Defense Department to compile a detailed public analysis of all data collected on "unidentified aerial phenomenon," including intrusions recorded by Navy pilots in recent years. The provision contained in the annual intelligence authorization bill, which still needs to be adopted by the full Senate, sets up an unusually public debate on Capitol Hill about how extensively the government has been tracking high performance aircraft of unknown origin, or UFOs.
Politico

Lawyer Alan Dershowitz is fighting to obtain secret court documents involving Jeffrey Epstein to use in a civil defamation lawsuit he has filed against a woman who claims she was forced to have sex with the flamboyant Harvard professor when she was a teen. Lawyers for Virginia Giuffre, however, asked a federal judge on Tuesday to keep the documents out of Dershowitz’s hands, at least for now, because they fear he may incorporate the information into his defamation case out of context and possibly distort the information.
McClatchy
 
 

 

editorials & columns
 
"Northam also bizarrely blamed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for supposedly releasing faulty information that created “confusion” to explain why for months, he would not let Virginians know which of these senior care facilities were reporting deadly coronavirus outbreaks."
 
LAST Friday, Gov. Ralph Northam announced that he was reversing his previous policy and belatedly releasing the names of nursing homes and assisted living facilities with COVID-19 outbreaks—which now account for nearly two-thirds of all coronavirus fatalities in the commonwealth. Northam’s original rationale for withholding this vital information from the public was that under state law, these businesses were entitled to the same medical privacy protections as individual patients, despite numerous pleas by family members worried about the safety of their loved ones. But as his sudden reversal last week made crystal clear, the governor at best mislead the public. If releasing the names of these facilities was not allowed under state law three months ago, releasing them now would still be forbidden since the General Assembly has not met in the interim to change the law, as House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert, R–Shenandoah, correctly pointed out. Northam also bizarrely blamed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for supposedly releasing faulty information that created “confusion” to explain why for months, he would not let Virginians know which of these senior care facilities were reporting deadly coronavirus outbreaks. What exactly was Virginia’s physician/governor confused about?
The Free Lance-Star
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